NEW IDEAS FOR CHEAP EATS
Clipping coupons and shopping for bargains may be routine for most budget-conscious shoppers, but those tried-and-true tactics aren't the only ways to save on food. Here are 15 unique ideas for cutting food costs, from overlooked cuts of meat to creative ways of putting food waste to work.
TAKE THE FAMILY OUT TO EAT (SERIOUSLY!)
DON'T OVERLOOK WHOLE FOODS
The store nicknamed Whole Paycheck isn't usually considered a spot for food bargains, but items such as frozen berries can be a steal at Whole Foods. We've seen prices as low as 17 cents an ounce, while a comparable product at Safeway is 25 cents an ounce.
GO VEGETARIAN (EVEN IF IT'S ONLY PART-TIME)
Meat is one of the most expensive ingredients in many meals. Focusing on meatless meals helps save money while diversifying nutrition — and there are plenty of great vegetarian recipes that even people who hate vegetables will enjoy. Some of the savings can be put toward higher-quality meat to consume in smaller quantities.
COOK 'TAKEOUT' AT HOME
Cooking is generally less expensive than eating out or ordering food to go and can be just as quick and convenient. Learning a few dishes to satisfy a craving for takeout, such as Pad Thai or sweet and sour chicken, can help cut spending on food. You can even do the same for many fast food favorites.
PAY WITH GIFT CARDS
Even consumers who didn't get any gift cards over the holidays can save by purchasing restaurant gift cards for themselves at a discount from warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam's Club. For example, Costco sells four $25 Baja Fresh gift cards for $80 ($100 value).
BUY GROCERIES AT THE DOLLAR STORE
Although many consumers turn up their noses at buying food where they find discount party supplies or cheap holiday decorations, Cheapism found that a smart shopper can get a week's worth of groceries for less than $50 by shopping at the dollar store.
TAKE EASY-TO-MAKE FOODS OFF THE GROCERY LIST
As simple as it is to pick up a bottle of salad dressing or a carton of chicken stock at the store, it's almost as easy (and cheaper) to make it at home. To make hummus, for example, toss chickpeas, olive oil, and a few other basic ingredients into a food processor, and it's ready to eat.
EAT OUT FOR LUNCH, NOT DINNER
Eating out is a fun indulgence, even for people trying to cut down on food expenses. Going out to eat during lunch provides the restaurant experience at a lower price. Lunch menus tend to list cheaper prices than dinner menus, and feature special prices or less expensive prix fixe options.
SET A BUDGET
Setting a food budget may be challenging until it becomes a habit, but it is one of the best tools for keeping finances in order. Having a spending limit will encourage practical purchasing and hone your ability to spot a good deal.
NO LOYALTY CARD? NO PROBLEM
Sales at many grocery stores require membership in a free loyalty program. When out of town or shopping at a unfamiliar chain, don't forgo valuable discounts because you don't want to bother with the paperwork. Just ask the cashier to swipe a store card to apply any available discounts, or let you fill out the forms later. Many checkers are happy to comply with such requests.
Although most stores offer all kinds of produce year-round, out-of-season fruits and vegetables are higher in price and lower in flavor. Rework recipes to feature seasonal ingredients to get the best value, nutrition, and flavor out of every dish.
MAKE INFUSED WATER
Plain water can get boring, but alternatives such as coconut water and sports drinks are expensive. Infusions give water a touch of flavor, making it exciting to the palate and encouraging hydration. Each liter only uses a few low-cost ingredients. And why stick with the usual cucumbers and oranges? For anyone who lives in an area with evergreen trees, it doesn't cost a thing to pluck some branches to make pine-flavored water. It pairs well with smoked meats and other strong flavors.
HIDE LEFTOVERS IN A LASAGNA
It's easy to buy more vegetables or meats than needed for a recipe, and too often these perishable items go to waste. Instead of doing a sweep and gathering all the stragglers into another soup or stir-fry, consider adding cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles to create a lasagna. This is a go-to recipe for using up ingredients left in the fridge.
FEED A CROWD WITH PORK SHOULDER
Looking for a cheap cut of meat? Pork shoulder often goes on sale for less than $2 a pound and can even be found for less than $1 on a lucky day. An average-size, 6- or 7-pound pork shoulder feeds at least eight people, so a crowd can eat very well for less than $15. Pork shoulder recipes tend to have long cooking times that require the oven to be on for many hours, so winter is the perfect time to try this flavorful cut.
USE KIDS' PLATES WITH LIDS
All too often kids take a few bites of a meal or snack before declaring they are full. Save that snack! Rather than waste food by tossing leftovers in the trash, simply snap a lid on top of the plate so the meal doesn't take on off flavors in the fridge.
Everyone knows to buy certain foods in bulk and freeze the excess to save money, but think beyond chicken breasts. When staples like butter go on sale, grab extra for freezing. Individually wrapped sticks can go straight into the freezer and keep for up to six months before thawing in the fridge. Bread and berries stay fresh for up to one year, milk for three months, and fresh orange juice for four.
WRAP BANANA STEMS
Bananas often start to go bad within days of purchase. Try this simple food hack to extend their life. Cover the stem ends in plastic wrap. This works even better if you separate the bananas from the bunch first and then wrap the ends.
MAKE HERBAL ICE CUBES
Fresh herbs often come in larger quantities than a cook can use before they go bad. Instead of letting the unused portions go to waste, chop up leftover herbs, measure into ice cube trays with water, and freeze. Toss a few cubes into soups and stews or mix with butter for sautéing vegetables and meats.
KEEP AVOCADO PITS
Anyone who has ever made guacamole knows the unappetizing gray color it takes on shortly after it's been made. The sight can be especially hard to stomach given the high price of avocados. Slow down the oxidation process by adding the avocado pit to the guacamole. This trick won't keep it fresh forever, but the guacamole should stay green for hours longer, which is especially helpful when taking the dish to a party. Have leftover avocado? Store it with a slice of onion to keep it fresh longer.
If your potatoes have "eyes" or seem less than fresh, consider putting them in the ground. Grow potatoes indoors in winter if you live in a cold climate, then plant outdoors in spring. Herbs can be placed in water until roots grow and potted for the rest of the season.